By Mike Patrick
In a former graduate school course, a student in her mid 30’s shared with the ministry class her assignment of a pastoral experience visiting in the hospital. After introducing the setting and role playing the parts in class, everyone reflected with her on that encounter. The patient, a severely intellectually challenged man, did not give any response (whether due to his disability or medication or both). So the student turned her attention to a sitter who sat across the room reading. Uninterested, the sitter dismissed the student. She left.
When the class reflected on the encounter, her peers wondered why she presented an experience that contained no real communication (though her presence was one form of ministry). The student replied that she could not get this experience off of her mind. It really bothered her. After mentioning herself several times and feeling like a failure, someone asked if her ministry focused on her more than others. After several more points of exploration, I finally interjected that I would like to turn the focus to narcissism. The student quickly looked at me with eyes wide open.
I said, “People are narcissistic for at least two reasons. One, they have an inflated ego.” I turned my attention to the student, calling her by name, “No one here thinks that you have an inflated ego. Another reason people are narcissistic is because of pain. If your tooth aches and you keep talking about it, it’s not because of your ego.”
I then asked the student, “What about this experience touched some pain in your life?” The student paused and began weeping as she realized that the rejection she felt in this hospital visit symbolized the rejection she felt from her conservative family of origin in another state for her wanting to become a priest. Narcissism may result from pain rather than an inflated ego.
Mike Patrick retired as Chaplain and Ministry Education Coordinator after 27 years at Hendrick Medical Center.